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Four-year college graduation rate not standards for all Idaho students, U of I grad talks untraditional college path

Group of Graduates
Posted at 4:46 PM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 21:39:01-04

MOSCOW, Idaho — State data shows the standard four-year graduation rate isn't the norm for all Idaho college students, and the delay isn't exclusively caused by COVID-19.

University of Idaho senior Natalie Miller will walk across the stage in the Kibbie Dome to receive her bachelor's diploma in just a few weeks. Miller, a Melba High School graduate, attended Idaho colleges for six years — including two years at the U of I.

Related: Boise State University launches college credit program for rural Idaho high schools

Miller said several situations contributed to extending her graduation timeline. Notably, the first-generation college student said she worked 25 to 30 hours a week to pay for school. After receiving her associate's at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Miller also transferred schools and switched majors twice before landing in International Studies.

"It's just been lots of unforeseen challenges," she said. "It's taken a while, but ultimately, I think it was exactly the time I needed.”

Natalie Miller, U of I student
Natalie Miller, U of I student

Miller is not alone in taking a little extra time to graduate.

According to 2021 data from the State Board of Education, only 39% of students from the University of Idaho graduate in four years. That number jumps to 59% for students who graduate in five to six years.

"At the University of Idaho, we treat you as an individual. That means working faster toward graduation for some people," said Bill Smith, U of I Director of the Martin Institute and Program in International Studies. "For others, because they have additional demands on their time — either through work, family, or other things — it may take longer."

Idaho State Board of Education 2021 report

The same data shows that no two or four-year college in Idaho saw more than half their students graduating on time in 2021. Boise State University was the closest, with 40% graduating in four years.

"The data shows us that the majority of students change directions at least three times while they're in school," Smith said. "That doesn't mean everyone does. So, we try to be very conscientious about the kinds of courses you take when you first get here so that you're not behind if you move on to a new degree path."

Idaho State Board of Education 2021 report

Smith said COVID-19 impacted students differently. He noted that some were able to graduate early through improved access to online courses while others required added in-person semesters.

"We're going to feel the effects of COVID in education for years to come," Smith said.

Despite taking more than the typical four years to grade, Miller said she wouldn't change her experience. Through the program, she's studied abroad in Costa Rica and recently visited New York for the National Model United Nations Conference.

"I think, ultimately, the college culture has changed," she said. "Honestly, I wish I had planned on going for six years and planned my semesters accordingly. Then I could have taken less (class) loads and really enjoyed all my classes rather than burning myself out every semester."

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